The social and moral structure of 19th-century France, then, aligned perfectly with the interests of the wealthy. The rich made the rules; they didn’t need to follow them. They were inherently good people, the argument went, so it was fine if they didn’t always behave as such.

As a result, when the depravity of the powerful was revealed, it could shake the foundations of the political regime. For instance, in the summer of 1847, the duc de Choiseul-Praslin, a member of the Chamber of Peers and a man close to the royal family, stabbed and bludgeoned his wife and then committed suicide. The crime was too gruesome to be kept a secret, and the duc’s history of domestic violence and infidelity rapidly came to light.

The fact that a fabulously wealthy and powerful man behaved so horrifically showed that maybe the rich were the real danger to society, not the poor. Socialists used this case to argue that aristocrats couldn’t be trusted to wield power. And in fact, the Choiseul-Praslin Affair, which exposed the depravity of the wealthy classes who had claimed to disenfranchise others for such behavior, is often cited as one of the causes of the Revolution of 1848.